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Give Thanks? For What?

by Nancy Canwell

Christine sat at the Thanksgiving table feeling numb. Unlike most teenagers, she didn’t feel like celebrating. What was there to be thankful for?
As tradition had it, everyone sitting around the table told what he or she was thankful for. Christine said, “Family.” But she knew that her family would never be the same again. Her mom had died just six days before.

She thought back 13 months to the night she came home from vespers to find the family doctor there. Her mom looked as though she’d been crying. Then Christine was told the horrible news: her mother had terminal cancer.

Her mom fought the cancer for more than a year, but the day came when she was too weak to travel to her chemotherapy treatment. “I camped out on the floor by Mom’s bed for a week,” Christine told me. “I didn’t want to leave her side.” Then one day, in her sleep, her mom simply stopped breathing and was gone.

Missing Mom

Thanksgiving came just six days later, and the memorial service the day after that.

Christine told me, “In past years we had always been excited about Thanksgiving. We usually got to my grandparents’ house early to visit, and after dinner we’d watch football. But that first Thanksgiving without Mom, it just didn’t feel right. So we ate and left.

“The next Thanksgiving was actually more difficult. That whole season is always hard for me because it brings back memories. Even now—five years later—I have a tough time from the first of November through Thanksgiving.”

I recently asked Christine, “So what do you do with that? How to you handle Thanksgiving? What do you do when everyone else is talking about family and what they’re thankful for?”

She answered, “I look for the positive—for reasons to be thankful. I think about the fact that I still have my dad and sisters. I have other family and friends whom I love. I try to focus on other people who might be at Thanksgiving dinner who loved Mom too, because I’m not the only one who is hurting.

“There’s so much about my mom’s life to be thankful for. I’m thankful that she was always there for us. I’m thankful that she made even simple things fun. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had extreme amounts of fun! I’m thankful that during her illness she was never negative and never complained. And that she laughed—a lot!

“The biggest thing I’m thankful for is that Mom taught me how to always be kind to everybody. She drilled into my head the importance of that, and I’ve tried to live it out. She taught me that you never know what someone else might be going through, and they may need a friend. Mom didn’t just teach me this—she showed me. That’s huge.

“And I can always be thankful that God is there for me. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true! Even if you don’t feel God’s presence, He’s always there. You’re never alone.”

Find your “thanks”

What Christine does with her Thanksgiving reminds me of the text in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT).* Some people have misunderstood this text to mean that we should be thankful for all circumstances. But how can that be? How can you be thankful that someone you loved died, that your parents’ divorced, that your best friend ditched you, that your girlfriend broke up with you, or that your dad lost his job?

That’s not what God’s asking. He’s asking that you be thankful in all circumstances. In other words, in the middle of the tough times, find things to be thankful for.

You will soon get a Thanksgiving break from school, but I’m giving you some homework! Deliberately look for things to be thankful for. They don’t have to be big things. They can be little, everyday things. Write them down on a piece of paper that you keep in a private place, and read them often. You’ll discover that even if life is tough at times, there are still things to be thankful for.

If you think that you can’t come up with anything, here’s one for you: Someone loved you enough to die for you. And He’s coming back to take you to heaven, where every day will be a day of giving thanks.

* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Nancy Canwell writes from College Place, Washington. She’s a writer, speaker, and former youth pastor. She has written the Review and Herald 2015 junior/earliteen devotional book, He’s Got Your Back. It’ll be available this fall.

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